Lewisham West MP, Jim Dowd, has used the Christmas Adjournment debate to re-raise the issue of transport in and out of the borough. I reproduce his speech in full:
I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise a couple of matters of particular concern to my constituents, although they have wider implications across south London. If I have time, I will refer to a third matter.
Earlier this year, I secured an Adjournment debate on the future of Network Rail services into London Bridge station following the welcome and long overdue extension of the East London line through my constituency to Crystal Palace and West Croydon. I do not intend to reprise the whole of that debate now, but I will make one point that I made then. The London borough of Lewisham has the highest proportion of residents who work outside the borough of any of the London boroughs. Therefore, the public transport links into and out of Lewisham are crucial to my constituents and others.
I sought in that debate to get an assurance that current Network Rail services would be augmented by East London line services and that there would be no cut in the current level of service, which is already extremely overcrowded. Although everyone welcomes the extension of the East London line and the extended opportunities that that will give for changes in travel patterns, on many occasions people cannot even get on the trains that go through the stations in my constituency. The frequency does not matter if by the time they get to Honor Oak, for example, they cannot get on the train. I sought a number of assurances, which the Minister was not able to give in full. However, the Minister certainly made some welcome comments.
Since then, the route utilisation study for south London has been concluded. Such studies are taking place throughout the country. I am sure that they are taking place in the constituencies of many Members present. The route utilisation study for south London has been published for consultation. The outline draft is before us. It is necessarily a weighty document: it is well over 200 pages, it is very technical and has numerous charts, graphs and tables. It will form the background not just for the extended East London line in 2010 but for the franchise renewal, which comes up in 2009.
The franchise is currently held by Southern. I do not know whether it will be successful again. I do not even know whether it will tender. I suspect that it will, which will be good news for people in my constituency, because it took over from the late, lamented Connex, which had the franchise taken away from it. Services have improved markedly. As I say, there is huge pressure in my constituency on the rail services going south on the loop line into London Bridge and Victoria stations.
The route utilisation study is not readily comprehensible to those who do not understand how railway timetabling is done. During the Adjournment debate earlier this year, I mentioned a few community groups in my constituency. I pay tribute to them again for the work that they have done in trying to interpret the implications of the options outlined in the study. However, I have concluded that the reasoning in that was at variance with my own and certainly at variance with the various undertakings and assurances that I was given by Network Rail, Southern, Transport for London and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who is responsible for rail, and his officials. There seems to be concern in the constituency that services into London Bridge station will be reduced from eight trains to six during the rush hour and that loop services between London Bridge and Clapham Junction into Victoria will be abolished.
I was therefore delighted to receive an e-mail from Network Rail. I will read part of it because I would like to get it on the record to reassure my constituents. It says:
“Network Rail has some concerns about a number of factually incorrect comments about the South London RUS which are currently in circulation and which may be causing…unnecessary worry.
Some of the issues which concern us, and which we would like to clarify are as follows:
It is not true to state that ‘the draft RUS would result in a 25 per cent. cut in existing Sydenham Line peak period services to London Bridge. The draft RUS proposals for December 2009 would in fact:
Result in exactly the same number of trains as today from Sydenham/Forest Hill arriving at London Bridge between 0700 and 1000 on weekdays”
“Result in an increase from today in the number of trains from Anerley, Penge West, Honor Oak Park and Brockley arriving at London Bridge between 0700 and 1000 on Weekdays”.
It goes on:
“It is not true to state that the draft RUS proposes an even greater cut in off-peak services from Sydenham to London Bridge. The draft RUS makes no comment whatever on the level of off-peak services to London Bridge. It is also not true to state that the draft RUS proposals will result in the loss of the loop line service to Clapham junction and Victoria.”
I was very heartened to receive that from Network Rail and obviously my constituents will be pleased as well. However, the proof of the pudding will be when the East London line arrives in 2010.
The utilisation study is out for consultation and should be finalised by March. It then goes to the Office of Rail Regulation and finally to the Department for Transport. I hope that all the bodies involved will process it in exactly the way that Network Rail intends and that the East London line in 2010 will be a genuine and very welcome addition—particularly to someone who has been campaigning for the extension of the East London line for 35 years—to the area and to the people of my constituency.
Another recent consultation, which was published only yesterday, is called “A Picture of Health” and is a joint venture by Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham primary care trusts, with the involvement of West Kent PCT. The study is looking at the acute sector within south-east London and outer west Kent. It has been augmented by Sir George Alberti, head of the national clinical advisory team. It is called, rather mistakenly in my estimation, the outer south-east London study. That is something of a misnomer, because University hospital, Lewisham is certainly not in outer London. However, it seems easier to deal with it in that way, rather than looking to the west and north to St. Thomas’s and King’s.
The great advantage of the variety of proposals that the study makes is that they are clinically led. A number of them—intermediate and hospital-based home services and urgent care centres—make admirable sense and the sooner they are advanced, the better. Many of them are not new and have been suggested for many years. However, the PCT and its predecessors were unable to put a funding framework in place. I hope that urgent progress will be made.
Many of the proposals deserve praise—as the consultation was published only yesterday, this is an early opportunity to make my views known—but some options should be ruled out immediately. Any suggestion to relocate the excellent paediatric facilities at Lewisham—a regional centre offering care of the highest quality—would be a severe mistake. There is no need to do that and, as the phrase has it, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Any suggestion that the accident and emergency facility at Lewisham should be downgraded or modified is completely misplaced. If it were not there, there would be nothing between St. Thomas’s, King’s and Farnborough to the south and Woolwich to the east. That is entirely unacceptable and would result in great dislocation. Hardly any of my constituents—hardly anyone in Lewisham—would use Woolwich and Farnborough and the pressure already on St. Thomas’s and King’s would simply be increased. The A and E at Lewisham is regularly busier than at King’s, a hospital with three times the number of beds, and is occasionally busier than St. Thomas’s. It would be an act of utmost folly to downgrade or modify it. I look forward to the consultation and hope that it will be to the benefit of everybody across south London.
Finally, I want to refer to an internet service provider that is failing to provide. Many right hon. and hon. Members will recall Freeserve, which was the dominant provider of internet services. In the end, it was acquired by Wanadoo and then went to Orange. During that time, people kept their e-mail addresses but were provided with services by Wanadoo and then by Orange—until a few months ago. This matter only came to my attention over the weekend.
Orange was taken over by France Telecom. I am sure that this has nothing to do with the fact that it is France Telecom, but surreptitiously and without warning long-established e-mail services are being disconnected. I am not even sure whether the company has the legal right to do that, because, effectively, it is taking people’s information or data and refusing them access to it. One can still send e-mails to the address that Orange has now blocked. People send mail in all good faith, assuming it has got through, but it has not, simply because of the capricious and disgraceful actions of Orange.
I know, as many hon. Members do, that Orange has a sophisticated lobbying organisation. There are many sessions for Members to discuss issues. I have been to a few and Orange is very generous with its hospitality; one can go out on the Terrace at its expense. Orange should take into account the fact that people have a right to be told, if nothing else. People may let Orange put them on to a new contract to screw money out of them—that is what these organisations do—but it is plain stupidity not to tell them what is going on . It should end this reprehensible behaviour as soon as possible.